Conference Reflections

After spending a day last week talking to parents about how their children are doing in my class at school. My conversations seem to focus on grades and behavior and not on learning. Sure, the grades are a reflection of learning and the behavior affects the learning. I did not seem to have questions about learning directly. When conferences were finished I left with questions of my own.

  1. Why are parents fixated on student grades instead of student understand?
  2. Why do some parents want more homework, others less?
  3. In general What is the purpose of school?

To start our educational system has created a culture of grades. We have a system where “A” is what parents want, “B” is okay if the student tried hard, “C” is bad and we have to take some action, “D and F” mean parents will yell at the child right in front of the teacher. Does this grading system work anymore? No, first it does not talk about what a student knows or doesn’t know. Second, it creates a ranking and expectation system. Parents will look at how many A’s are on the report card and rank their child above students who have fewer. Parents will begin to expect the same grades from year to year, without thinking about their child’s ability, passion and work ethic. The learning expectations change each year and with each teacher. Science jumps from biology to physics to geology. Social Studies jumps from state to state, continent to continent, geography to history. Math and language arts are more progressive but they have jumps also. Schools need to move away from grades and focus on what a student knows and doesn’t know. Colleges would have a better idea if a student was a candidate if they knew the knowledge levels not the letter grades of applicants.

This moves us to question #2: My parents at conferences always ask about homework, “I have not seen any (or very little) work at home.” Well for staters, I don’t believe in homework, so only work that is not completed in class goes home. Some of my parents get upset and ask for MORE homework. I always ask why, and it is so their child can do better in my class. I don’t understand the correlation, if you want your child to do better, spend time with them. Go over the work we did in class. Have them read. Look up the topics on the internet and discuss. Parents are to be partners in the teaching process. I always offer resources for the parents, few have taken me up on this offer. I have also heard of the parents who want less homework. I would say, that school is the job your child is doing now. If you feel the homework isn’t meaningful then have a discussion with that teacher. If the work is meaningful then do it. Hopefully teachers are only giving meaningful homework but I have seen some work that sure seems busy.

Finally the big question: What is the purpose of school? I often feel I am a babysitter for 12-13 year olds. During their time with me I feel I need to instill in them the values of society and show them how to gain knowledge. Are teachers too overloaded with content nowadays? I was asked that by one parent. Yes, we have more content standards now. Schools have SO much content to teach. Students come in with a wide range of ability and background knowledge. Should schools be focused on content? No, schools need to make an impact. If they try to teach too much content knowledge it is not covered in a way that students can critically think about the content. Covering a broad range of content also creates problems with the disadvantaged students. The speed at which each topic is covered puts them at a disadvantage.

So what should schools focus on? Schools need to focus on knowledge obtainment skills. They need to teach student how they are to learn. Different tools, strategies and processing skills that give students the ability to learn on their own. The old proverb comes to mind:” If you give a man a fish he eats for a day, if you teach him to fish he eats for a life time.” So if you give a man knowledge he only has the knowledge you gave him, if you teach a man how to obtain knowledge he can have all the knowledge he wants.

The purpose of schools is to create independant learners, lets not complicate them by adding to much content that the essential skills of knowledge obtainment are missed.